Under pressure from environmental protests and growing support for the opposition Green Party, the German government on Friday agreed to a 54 billion euro ($ 60 billion) package of measures to tackle climate change.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the agreement reached by the ruling parties during the overnight marathon talks would increase the country's contribution to the fight against global warming. Europe's largest economy aims to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
"We believe that we can achieve the goals and that we have really laid the foundation for this," Merkel told reporters in Berlin.
Germany has long been a leader in environmental protection, but in recent years it has lagged behind many European neighbors in part due to persistently high emissions in the transport sector.
The government's prudent climate policy contrasts with the view of the majority of German voters that curbing global warming is the most pressing issue of the day.
A poll released Friday by ARD television showed that 63% of voters said the government should prioritize protecting the climate over economic growth. Only 24% said that economic growth should take priority.
German students have welcomed weekly protests by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, and on Friday they staged demonstrations in hundreds of cities across the country. According to police, Berlin alone saw 100,000 people take to the streets, with organizers claiming 1.4 million across the country, while Merkel outlined her plans nearby.
What's the plan?
The goal is for the carbon price to come into effect gradually from 2021, with a CO2 price applied to gasoline and diesel, as well as gas and heating oil.
An initial three euro cents will be added to the cost of a liter of gasoline and diesel, which will increase to between 9 and 15 cents by 2026.
The system will be based on an exchange of emissions certificates under the EU emissions trading scheme. The current cost of a ton of CO2 is € 26.30 and the government plans to raise the price to € 35 by 2025 with a cap of € 60.
The so-called climate cabinet of the coalition parties was locked in talks for 19 hours before reaching a compromise. Long-distance commuters will receive CO2 tax relief and there will be incentives for residents to upgrade heating systems to more climate-friendly models. There will be a ban on new oil-fired heating systems.
There will be incentives to buy electric cars as well as photovoltaic panels and a higher target for power from offshore wind turbines.
VAT (sales tax) on train tickets will drop from 19% to 7% on January 1, 2020 and operator Deutsche Bahn said it would forgo any price increases. An additional annual investment of € 1 billion is planned until 2030 to modernize and expand the rail network to cope with the expected increase in passengers.
Because right now?
Germany is on track to lose its 2020 target of reducing 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, so it is now focusing on 2030.
The chancellor said the chances of hitting the 2030 target were better now than the original 2020 target. His party colleague Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the ultimate goal was to be carbon neutral by 2050 and said the new package was ambitious.
But the reaction in Germany to the package has been great. Commentators were surprised that the price of a ton of CO2 did not increase for several years.
Fridays for Future, which is behind the global climate change protests in Germany and around the world, complained that the measures had nothing to do with limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 ° C and that society Germany had gone far beyond her government on climate change.
"This is not a breakthrough today, it is a scandal," complained prominent climate activist Luisa Neubauer, drawing attention to the "historic" number of protesters in central Berlin.
The liberal FDP complained that the package lacked vision while the leftist Die Linke said it was "a mosaic of measures largely ineffective."
Merkel, who was environment minister during the first United Nations climate conference in 1995, said she plans to tell her world leaders at a UN summit in New York on Monday that Germany is meeting its long-term goal of reducing emissions to net zero by 2050.
But he admitted that his government cannot guarantee that the latest plan reaches the 2030 goal, much less the more ambitious long-term goal.
Sources: apnews.com, BBC